The battle between hit-maker T.I. and his thugging alter ego T.I.P. has already taken its toll - he's in the middle of serving 1,000 hours of community service and will soon serve a year in prison for gun possession - but it's far from resolved on the Atlanta rapper's new album, "Paper Trail" (Grand Hustle/Atlantic).
The Grammy winner is still bouncing between pop-leaning hip-hop anthems, including the playful No. 1 single "Whatever You Like" and spare, often violent, tales of crime and brutality, such as the bullying "Every Chance I Get." His explanation of having a split personality is quite convincing. After all, his poppier songs are generally smooth and charming - amplified by such guests as John Legend on the laid-back, soulful "Slide Show" or Rihanna on the danceable, esteem-building "Live Your Life," a rare surefire smash in these uncertain economic times - and his crime-oriented songs sound relentless and nearly punishing. They also sound repetitive and brutishly dull, as if the clever parts of his brain shut down when he slips into this persona.
"Paper Trail" does succeed at banking enough strong singles, including "Swagga Like Us," with Jay-Z and Kanye West, and "Swing Ya Rag," with Swizz Beatz, to keep T.I. on the charts during his upcoming incarceration. Maybe he can use all that time to decide which side of his personality he plans to cultivate permanently. Going back and forth only hurts both sides.
T.I. plays tonight at the HighLine Ballroom in Manhattan.
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE No alter ego this time, but his hip-hop world view is still split
In her star turn in "Dreamgirls," Jennifer Hudson proved she could sing. On her debut "Jennifer Hudson" (Arista), however, Hudson learns what all great singers learn: They need great songs to truly shine.
She starts out promisingly enough, with the gorgeous R&B pop of "Spotlight" that is both aching and stylish. She ends with the powerhouse combo of "And I'm Telling You" and the gospel number "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There." But the middle, except the feisty "Pocketbook" with Ludacris, gives her problems.
Hudson's voice is still great on those tracks, but the mostly generic ballads fold under her strength, especially "What's Wrong" with T-Pain and the histrionic "I'm His Only Woman" with Fantasia. Next time, Hudson needs to find songs that can stand up to her.
THE GRADE B-
BOTTOM LINE Great voice, not-always-great material
Bayside's winning "Shudder" (Victory; Grade: A-)
Joseph Arthur's strong "Temporary People" (Lonely Astronaut)
James Taylor takes on everything from Eddie Cochran to the Dixie Chicks on "Covers" (Hear Music)
Jack's Mannequin's "The Glass Passenger" (Warner Bros.)
Anberlin's "New Surrender" (Universal Republic)
Kellie Pickler's "Kellie Pickler" (BNA)
Dream Theater's three-CD, two-DVD concert package "Chaos in Motion" (Roadrunner)